Oftentimes, thoughts can go all over the place. They can go so many places you may have no idea how the images in your head even got there. Images of pain and violence, or those of your worst fears. And every time your thoughts get going, you begin to dread having to see those things again in your mind. You’re not the kind of person who thinks those things! Can’t they just leave you alone…?
Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe it happens for you after a scary movie, when your mind wanders back to the things that haunted you. Or maybe the phrase: “What has been seen, cannot be unseen” calls what I’m talking about to mind.
All in all, it’s when you don’t want to think a certain thought.
The thing is, if you are afraid of your own thoughts, then it causes even more disturbance in your mind. You might actively try to think other thoughts on top of the ones that you don’t want to think, and you have to constantly expend energy doing this, because if you don’t….
But no matter how much you try, your thoughts won’t calm down. Because you’re constantly adding more thoughts, replacing what you’re afraid of with turmoil. Yeah, you might avoid it for a while, but…
Flowing Towards Peace
So if thinking about something else doesn’t help, what does?
Well you know how when you’re thinking the thoughts you like, thoughts flow from one to the next? Same with the thoughts you don’t like, IF you leave them alone.
That is, as intimidating as it may sound, you must allow yourself to think the thoughts that appear in your head. Allow them to be there for as long as they would be if you weren’t afraid of them. Just stand strong and take it.
You might be afraid that this means you’ll think them over and over again forever, or that your actions will be determined by your thoughts, but no. If your action is to stand strong no matter what thought rolls into your mind, those thoughts will keep moving. Not all thought is a precursor to action. Are you thinking these things because you’re trying to figure out what to do? No? Then think them. Don’t run from them, don’t try to rush them forward. Just think them. Eventually the chaos will pass.
(Or, do you think that you ARE going to act on the thoughts? Really? Do you seriously think you’ll choose to do such freaky things? Own your own power of choice. Be realistic. You are not at the mercy of a random flow of fear-inducing thoughts.)
You might be thinking now, “Eh, it sounds a whole lot easier just to constantly avoid thinking about thoughts I fear, than to rush headlong into them.” But one thing to keep in mind that if any side of you holds courage as an ideal, they may test you by flooding your mind with these thoughts, no matter how much you dislike them. They may back off if you fail the test, but you can bet they’ll try again later.
No, if you want to have peace in your mind, you need to allow yourself to think through all the thoughts that appear there. Maybe then you’ll be able to see where the thoughts are coming from, and if something in you is trying to scare you. The key is to not back down, even if the thoughts make you uncomfortable. Do not hide behind other thoughts. Face the thoughts you fear, and find what’s on the other side of them. No thought, at least to me, is worth surrendering your peace for.
Let the hundred chattering voices and movie screens be. Sometimes they want to see you get scared. Just stand, unaffected, aware that your peace is being threatened.
So, say you’re in a mess of thoughts – how do you know what the right direction is? Here’s an easy test: You’re going the right way if you feel more and more peace, NOT if you think less and less of certain thoughts.
I hope that helps whenever you next find yourself being attacked by your own thoughts, or even have a song stuck in your head. And remember, it’s just a thought! It’s not an order, or a precognition, or even reality. It’s just an image, or words, like you might read on the internet. The reality at such times is your fear, or whatever else you’re feeling. Stay strong. Don’t let the things in your head get to you. You’ll make it through, a-ok.
That all said, here’s one more clip from Courage the Cowardly Dog:
The things you do for love.
1st Important Update: Can’t “Not think” anything
I saw that there have been a lot of people reading this post lately, so I wanted to share my added findings, even though there aren’t any blog posts about it yet.
Basically, I’ve found that it’s not enough to JUST endure your thoughts, because then your head is just filled with a bunch of stuff you don’t understand, and sometimes it DOESN’T go away. To work through this stage, you need to understand how thoughts work.
Basically, any images you see in your mind’s eye are a kind of statement from some side of yourself. Not every thought is expressed in words.
Furthermore, the reason why you can’t get away from your thoughts is because if you think “Not X”, you might see X in your mind’s eye, but maybe scribbled out, or maybe constantly returning to your mind. You see it because “Not X” still includes X. Maybe you’re not thinking it EXPLICITLY, however, so you might see X reappearing over and over again and you don’t know why. But that image is a clue to lead you to what your mind is REALLY trying to say – for instance, “Not X”.
I think about it like this now: all images, words, sounds, or whatever in your head are like a part of yourself trying to say something. It’s up to you to respond with your own thoughts and images, as if having a conversation in your mind, with whatever in you is speaking up, whether that side of you is speaking in fear or anger or whatever else. Work with yourself.
But the thing about calming your mind by not reacting impulsively to your thoughts still holds. It is way more productive to ask why an image in your mind is there than to try and do something about it immediately. As with most problems, you can see the symptom – but it’s when you get to the root of that symptom’s appearance that you can truly address the root cause, and thus, solve the problem.
Remember: thoughts can appear for many reasons – try to understand why they appear, and you can do something about it. You don’t have to be afraid of thoughts, and you have the capacity to address thoughts, whatever images or words they might contain.
2nd Update: Changing Focus
The latest bit of information I have is about focus. In the last update, I mentioned how you will think about X even if you think ‘Not X’ – well, focus is how you can fundamentally change what you are thinking about on that underlying level. So what’s a way to change focus? Instead of trying to mess with your mental image, arbitrarily put your focus on something else. Like, look around and search for the color red in everything you see. Then a different color. Occupy your mind with different topics and point of focus until your flow of thoughts doesn’t keep diving into the disturbing images.
At the same time, remember that shifting focus does not address the reason for these thoughts appearing. The purpose of shifting focus is to give you breather room to some mental stability. To really solve the cause of the thoughts, you will need to use your awareness to figure out why these images are occurring. If it’s fear, you may want to deal with the fear head-on by examining why you’re afraid of what you are in-depth. Uncovering the truth about a fear and why it’s an issue for you usually helps immensely in relieving it.
3rd Update: Article on Fear
I now have an article on how to deal with fear in general. This can help with any fear, by essentially getting you to stick to the facts of what you actually know, rather than hypothesizing wildly. You can find that article here.
4th Update: Bad Thoughts from Checking if They’re Gone
One important phenomenon that I noticed, that may be one of the last keys to this issue, was that when I try to prove to myself that I’m safe from my thoughts, I impulsively create the thoughts that I don’t like. Why do I do this? Because I want to confirm with my mind that the issue is over and done with, and I want to be realistic about this. But the fact is that the mind can create anything at any time, so I can always disprove the idea that the issue is finished, without fail, every time.
This means that when you hope to be safe from your thoughts, then that hope can be dashed almost immediately, but it can happen in response to your hopes.
This is very important, because while at first it may seem like your bad thoughts are inescapable, what it really tells you is that you are the one in control of your thoughts being created, and they’re coming from a benign place (at least in this case), that is, from your hope.
From here, I found two ways of responding positively to thoughts as the possibility of thinking them arose in my mind – you know, the feeling of being on edge that your mind will go in “that direction” once again. Here are the two ways I found – both were effective:
- “I can’t not think this thought”. Thinking this stops you in your tracks in attempting to not think a thought, which will inevitably bring to you more of the thought you don’t want to think.
- “I could think a bad/unwanted thought right now.” Thinking this recognizes your own ability to create thoughts you don’t like, and stops you from trying to prove yourself “safe” from certain thoughts that you think about possibly having.
Both methods are meant to make it very evident to your mind that you have the power to go down the road of thinking the thoughts you don’t want to think, or are afraid to think. It also makes it clear that trying to avoid thinking those thoughts can make the situation even worse. By being clear with yourself that it’s impossible to deliberately not think a thought, and that you could consciously create unwanted thoughts right now, you can stop your mind’s attempts to either try avoiding unwanted thoughts (and thus creating them) or to think that thoughts are not a choice (which can flood your mind with unwanted thoughts, simply because you think it’s out of your control).
Those are the things I wanted to share – this may be the last post on this, because I really feel like this was sort of the last threshold in terms of handling unwanted thoughts, though I may find later that there are ways for more to get in. As always, I will post my findings here if and when I find them. Take care, and anyone suffering from fear of their own thoughts out there, I hope this helps.
5th Update: Using Willpower to prove to yourself You’re Safe
What I wanted to talk about here was an additional way to “keep calm and carry on”, so to speak, despite your thoughts. As it suggests in the title, you can use your willpower, or your ability to deliberately choose and act on those choices, to keep yourself safe from bad thoughts.
Basically, here is what I found to be the key: Ask yourself, “What would I normally do if I did not have these thoughts right now?” Then, act on that. Just do whatever it is you’d normally do if you did not have your unwanted thoughts. This sort of thing is very simple, as you may find like I did that you are able to operate despite your thoughts, even when they’re going all over the place, including places you don’t want them to go. You don’t need to let your awareness of them impede your actions. However, you CAN just act as you would normally.
What this does is give you a safe haven in which to lead a normal life, even in those moments when your thoughts are anything but normal. And if you have that, you can examine the issues in your thoughts without being afraid that they will affect your actions. Because you can always just keep going about your daily routine – doing the things you like to do, taking care of the things you choose to take care of, even if your thoughts are all over the map. Just note it and keep moving forward. Your thoughts do NOT have to affect you. You can CHOOSE to just stick to a normal routine. Yes, maybe this is just a stepping stone before you solve the deeper issues behind these thoughts, but having a safe haven can make a huge difference.
That’s all for now, I’ll most likely post again if there are any more updates on this issue. Good luck out there, and take care.
6th Update: Utilizing the power of Mental Input
The mind seems to not respond to reason, but does respond to input. This means that one way you can influence, but not control, your thoughts, is to deliberately think things to distract and lead your mind away from what it may be obsessing over fearfully.
For instance, if you’re thinking about some traumatic experience, and you suddenly think “rubber jellyfish” – it seems as though the mind takes a moment to process the new input, and may provide associated information – such as what a rubber jellyfish would look like, feel like, taste like, why you might think of a rubber jellyfish, and if there is any deep significance to it. This of course may seem all the more ridiculous to you as you watch your thoughts, and this may enable you to get out of a mental danger zone.
If you’re thinking fear-inducing things RIGHT NOW, one thing you can do is to take a moment and deliberately think one completely ridiculous thing after another, until you feel more safe.
7th Update: Intrusive thoughts as products of Dissonance, not Indecision
Sometimes when a thought appears, it can be scary because it seems like it’s pushing you in a direction you don’t want to go. But unlike when we’re indecisive, arguing with the thought doesn’t necessarily seem very effective.
Not all thoughts, however, are legitimate suggestions. Sometimes, they can appear because of confusion over our own ideas, mindsets, principles, and ways of looking at the world.
For instance, if we have a fairly strong conviction that “same is boring”, then when we’re making a decision to do something the same as what we did yesterday, thoughts might pop up thinking of alternative directions that wouldn’t be the same. They may be incredibly unreasonable things, too, and we could scare ourselves into thinking “do I really want to do those other things? What’s wrong with me??” And this might happen without us even thinking of our “same is boring” philosophy. But on questioning where the thought came from, rather than fighting it, one can potentially figure out where it was coming from.
For me, this made a big difference, because no longer was it about outrageous suggestions from my consciousness, in which case I would end up strongly arguing why the actions I wanted to take were right, and how I would “never do such things”. But all this pompous posturing wasn’t necessary. Instead, what was important was being there for the confused voice inside me that said “but, don’t we think these other ways?” – it didn’t know how to reconcile my chosen directions with my underlying philosophies, and felt vulnerable because of it. Thus, taking the time to add caveats and complexities to those philosophies, to account for special cases, seemed in my case to do the trick.
Remember: sometimes it isn’t your consciousness arguing with your chosen direction that causes these thoughts, but rather a simple expression of confusion. Listen in to your feelings, and you may be able to tell what it is in your case.
8th Update: Expecting what is Unwelcome
It seems as though merely expecting an unwelcome thought can get it to disappear, or at least lessen to an incredible extent. Expecting has been the most consistent “switch” I’ve found to date that can turn bad thoughts off.
At first glance, this solution may seem absurd, but it seems like when an unwelcome thought occurs, we can cause it to grow out of proportion by our very fear of it and by how unwelcome it is for us. Think of all the other thoughts that just float in and out of our heads effortlessly. It seems like one of the differences is that we don’t reject “normal” thoughts when they appear. But when an “intrusive” thought appears, we freak out, or try to push it away. Even though the intrusive thought is unwelcome, it’s still significant, and as such, our thoughts can expand around it: we can end up thinking about the thought, how to get rid of it, why it showed up, what it means, how awful it is, etc.
One way to reduce the significance of something is to treat it as expected. You can treat it as though it producing the outrageous images it does it just, well, completely normal. It’s to be expected. This doesn’t mean, though, that you expect your thoughts to be bad – it’s just that you expect the full range of your thoughts, good or bad. It’s like the phrase “expect the unexpected”, although here it’s more along the lines of “expect the unwelcome”. You treat their rampage as merely the passing of a cloud – nothing to be disturbed about.
Of course, the issues producing these thoughts may still be an issue, but the thoughts themselves don’t have to be. It seems as though we’re paralyzed in terms of our ability to respond to something when we’re afraid of it, or reject its appearance. Your thoughts are an uncontrollable part of life, and something we learn to influence, just like many aspects of reality.
Anyway, I feel like expecting bad thoughts is a very important tool for approaching unwanted thoughts, and I wanted to include this to share with anyone going through a similar circumstance. Maybe it will help you tame the bad-thought explosions, and remain calm. The main key with this technique is to try “expecting” a thought once it appears and starts to get out of control. Another way to think about it is to “look for” the thought to be there. This seems to, like I said, cause the explosion to revert to something relatively benign, or to quiet down completely.
9th Update: “Filling in the Blank”
One aspect of the imagination seems to be that it has a tendency to “fill the gap” created by uncertainty. Uncertainty can often be put into the form of a question, and imagination is one way to try and find an answer that fits.
However, the greater the strain one puts on one’s imagination, such as one is both afraid an uncertain at the same time, then it seems that there’s a greater chance of the imagination stretching far to fill the gap, and frightening mental images and considerations can appear. This phenomenon can be seen in worrying when one is catastrophizing, and thinking about all the horrible things that might happen or be happening. Or, more acutely, this can happen during bouts of paranoia, when one is under an assault of fear, which can bring on attacks of horrible mental images as well.
Knowing this, one can turn one’s attention towards resolving one’s uncertainties, rather than trying to control the mind. It seems that three main steps are required to help one’s self during such times:
- Become aware of one’s feelings of fearful uncertainty.
- Ask yourself: What bad situation do you not want to have happen? Or, what are you trying to avoid? (Often, it seems we get uncertain because we really want to know something, in order to avoid something bad. Thus, by thinking about the bad thing you don’t want to have happen, you get to the root of where this uncertainty is coming from)
- Oftentimes, bad situations are not 100% within our control, meaning they CAN happen. You can think through this: If such an uncontrollable (but avoidable) situation were to occur, what would you do?
By preparing one’s self for awful situations beyond our control, we can become more calm in the moment, since we can feel ready to handle them. This is similar to the technique in the article on anxiety – indeed, a fearful uncertainty could be described as anxiety.
By reducing one’s fear and anxiety, it seems that imagination can become more healthy, allowing for a more relaxed mental environment. After all, uncertainty doesn’t need to always be handled with fear. One can, instead, approach it in a very practical, methodical way, by looking patiently for the correct answer, rather than panicking while answers that don’t really fit the situation spring to mind to fill the gap. With less fear and panic, we can take the time we need to answer the questions that interest us, and learn more and more as we go.
10th Update – How Thoughts Distort around Subjects of Uncertainty
If you’ve experienced distorted, unwanted thoughts, you may have noticed that they come up repeatedly with respect to certain subjects, or when certain subjects are within your awareness. It seems to me that distortions don’t just appear at random, but as a response to uncertainty one feels with regard to how to respond to a given subject.
This seemed to be linked to why working through fear helps these thoughts, since when we feel uncertain about something, we can start to come up with all sorts of theories about what the real case might be. This also seems linked to worry, too, since working through worries can often involve figuring out how one would respond to an event one is worried about, if it were to happen.
Another way of phrasing uncertainty is that one is unsure how to handle the realities that one seems certain about. The “facts” of the matter may leave one flustered, or in a state of feeling vulnerable or helpless.
As for how to handle this aspect of unwanted thoughts, I’m not sure, but theorize that the answer will have to do with the most effective way of figuring out a way to respond to the subject matter one currently feels vulnerable or helpless in the presence of. I am aiming to update here when I find a more clear answer.
How to Reduce Fear, Escape Anxiety, and End Panic is a great ebook and set of meditations by Mark Ivar Myhre for approaching Fear, whether it be fear of thoughts or any other kind. It can also be a great resource for anxiety and panic, as well.
An article by the same guy, How To Stop Obsessive Thoughts, deals with another important aspect of this topic: getting back to your true feelings.
Fear Of Thinking – Fearofstuff.com entry on the fear of thinking, otherwise called Phrnemophobia.
What has been Seen Cannot Be Unseen – Some information from Knowyourmeme.com about the meme.